Republican debates have lots of viewers, but no answers
Tonight’s Republican debate may attract lots of viewers. It need not capture their minds.
Republicans are debating again tomorrow night. And once again, Americans will hear the standard regressive litany: government is bad, Medicare and Medicaid should be cut, “Obamacare” is killing the economy, undocumented immigrants are taking our jobs, the military should get more money, taxes should be lowered on corporations and the rich, and regulations should be gutted.Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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Four years ago the most widely-watched TV debate among Republican aspirants attracted 3.2 million viewers. This year it’s almost twice that number. And for every viewer assume a multiplier effect as he or she shares what’s heard with friends and family.
Americans are listening more intently this time around because they’re hurting and they want answers. But the answers they’re getting from Republican candidates – tripping over themselves trying to appeal to hard-core regressives – are the wrong ones.
The correct ones aren’t being aired.
But even if the President had equal time, the debate about what to do about the crisis would still be frighteningly narrow.
That’s because the President’s answers don’t nearly match up to the magnitude of the crisis.
Without bold alternatives, Americans desperate for big solutions are attracted to bold crackpot ideas like Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” proposal, which would raise taxes on the poor and cut them for the rich.
This is where the inchoate Occupy Wall Street movement could come in. What’s needed isn’t just big ideas. It’s people fulminating for them – making enough of a ruckus that the ideas can’t be ignored. They become part of the debate because the public demands it.
The biggest thing the President has proposed is a plan to create 2 million jobs. But that’s not nearly big enough. Today, 14 million Americans are out of work, and 11 million more are working part-time who’d rather be working full time.
The nation needs a real jobs plan, one of sufficient size and scope to do the job – including a WPA and a Civilian Conservation Corps, to put the millions of long-term unemployed and young unemployed to work rebuilding America.
I’m not criticizing the President. Without energized, mobilized, and organized progressives, even the best people in Washington can’t overcome the monied interests.
For example, America’s long-term debt needs to be addressed, but not the way the President is doing it. He wants to lop $4 trillion off the budget over the next ten years. This almost certainly means sacrificing education, job training, food stamps, and everything else now listed in the so-called “non-defense discretionary” budget, as well as cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
What about halving the military budget instead? It doubled after 9/11, and military contractors are intent on keeping it in the stratosphere. So is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Result: Defense cuts this size won’t be on the table unless progressives vociferously demand it.
And what about really raising taxes on the rich to finance what the nation should be doing to create a world-class workforce with world-class wages?